LET’S TALK: About grief and loss

Grief and loss is one of life’s unavoidable challenges. Unavoidable because it is human nature to become attached, especially to people we love. And the challenge is accepting the heartache that comes with the loss of a loved one. We do know that there is a process that people typically go through as they come to terms with the loss, but there is no single “right way,” since circumstances and relationships are varied and complex.

Anticipatory loss is different from unexpected loss. With the first, we have time to slowly adjust to the possibility and the grief is experienced in increments over time, whereas a premature and sudden death of a loved one can come in an emotional single blow and will often take longer to integrate into our reality. If the relationship was a difficult one, where conflict or distance layered the underlying love, the grief may be especially difficult to resolve.

Daruma Psychology emphasizes resilience; the ability to bend in the wind of painful experiences, experiencing the pain and suffering that loss brings us and coming back to life, changed by the loss, and ever stronger in spirit. The healthy resolution of grief is not that the aching pain is gone forever, but rather, that we experience the loss emotionally, feeling the depths of the sorrow; and that we make meaning of ourselves in relationship to the person who is gone.

Recently, my friend Wayne Maeda passed away, and I continue to find moments of such deep sadness that the tears well up at unexpected times. Though a part of me may want to shut off the pain, I remind myself that these feelings are a measure of the bond we shared and the shelter I experienced in our friendship. So allowing the feelings and making meaning is often what a funeral, celebration, ritual, or memorial event in honor of the person we lost, provides for us.

Understanding the stages of grief can help a person recognize the often intense and confusing emotions and thoughts that are a normal part of the grieving process. Initially, we may be unable to fully accept the loss and this denial can be experienced in moments when we expect the person to just appear around the corner or in their favorite spot in the living room; or it can be experienced as a refusal to feel the pain, to be numb and avoid the reality of the loss. With time, this stage sometimes gives way to feelings of anger and resentment about the loss. The anger can be directed at unsuspecting others, at God, at one’s self, as well as at the person who has died. bargaining is the stage where the bereaved person re-hashes all the things that could have been done differently to keep the person from dying. There may be self-talk about what you would be willing to sacrifice or do differently to undo the death. Next, depression is a normal part of the grieving process. It is the stage where the bereaved is experiencing the sorrow and releasing emotions that may have been pent up to avoid the pain of loss. And the final stage is acceptance. Here the person is now integrating the loss, that is, finding meaning in the relationship, in life as it is now without the loved one. In most cases there is a sense of peace that the person can experience, the struggle of fending off the loss is over, and finding ways to move on becomes a part of the healing.

Not everyone moves through all of these stages and they may not be experienced in this specific order, or even in an orderly way for that matter. But these can be helpful markers of assessing the movement through the grieving process. It is “movement” that is the sign of healthy resolution. And so goes the Daruma, seven times down and eight times up!

Satsuki Ina, Ph.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Sacramento and Berkeley with specialization in intergenerational trauma. www.satsukiinatherapy.com. She is also a filmmaker (“Children of the Camps” and “From a Silk Cocoon: A Japanese American Renunciation Story”). The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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